Finger-pointing but no answers after family in Arctic Canada buries wrong baby due to hospital mistake

Tony Alagalak, Alice Kinak and their family. Alagalak, whose son was born in ‘critical condition,’ in Arviat, Nunavut, says his government has failed him. His son died in a Winnipeg hospital and there was subsequently a mix-up with the body. (Tony Alagalak/Facebook)
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, in the Canadian Prairies, is pointing the finger at a local hospital after a Nunavut family learned that the hospital mixed up the bodies of their newborn son and another baby.

The mix-up happened after the baby’s death at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital in April. The hospital sent a body to parents Tony Alagalak and Alice Kinak in Arviat, Nunavut (Canadian eastern Arctic), where they held a funeral. It was weeks later, in May, when the family was finally starting to return to normal, that three officials from the hospital arrived in the community to explain that the family had been given the wrong baby’s body.

It’s still not clear how the mistake happened. Officials with St. Boniface have declined to comment. Alagalak said he was told they’re still looking into the case.

“They apologized,” Alagalak said. “But I know somebody made a mistake there.”

Alagalak doesn’t know who the other family impacted is.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) acknowledged that this is a “heartbreaking time.” But it noted that each hospital is responsible for its own morgue processes.

“The process for transfer of remains from hospital to families is a responsibility held by each individual hospital,” said Krista Williams, chief health operations officer for the health authority, in an emailed statement.

“We have been in close contact with St. Boniface Hospital while they conduct a review of this incident, and await recommendations that come forward from this review to prevent this from happening again.”

Officials with St. Boniface Hospital have declined to comment on the case. (CBC)
‘My government failed me’

Alagalak says too many infants die in Nunavut, and he wants to see changes to the health-care system in Arviat and the rest of the territory.

“I really think my government failed me,” he said. “There should be someone here at all times for emergencies like that.”

Nunavut’s health department previously declined to comment on the case. CBC has renewed its request for an interview with the territory’s health minister.

CBC has also requested an interview with Manitoba’s health minister.

Mark O’Rourke, with Manitoba’s Chief Medical Examiner’s office, said all children’s deaths are reported to the office. It looks at the cause and manner of death.

He said the death of Alagalak and Kinak’s son was reviewed at St. Boniface Hospital and did not require further investigation, so the body was released back to the doctor.

The Manitoba Nurses Union said it is investigating the case, however it declined to comment further out of respect for the family and patient confidentiality.

With files from Angela Johnson and Jordan Konek

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Infant mortality rate in Canada’s Nunavut three times national average: report, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s elder care needs funding boost to meet Nordic standards: researcher, Yle News

Sweden: Giving birth in a car: a real rural problem in Sweden, Radio Sweden

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